There are a million things that make your second pregnancy different from the first. Firstly it seems to go so much quicker. One minute you’re peeing on a stick wondering how the hell that happened, (literally), and the next you have a huge bump and having to explain that NO it’s not twins, and YES you’re really only 24 weeks to all the strangers who’ve lost their inappropriate comments filter.
First time, your pregnant belly was lovingly stroked with organic stretch mark cream infused with lavender and ginseng. Second time, your pregnant belly (‘showing’ from approximately 2 minutes pregnant), is forgotten about until you realise you’re knocking furniture over with it. First time, a healthy balanced diet is consumed at all times and you drink 8 glasses of water a day having abandoned caffeine 6 months prior to conception. Second time all you can think about is how to sneak the KitKat and Mars bar into your mouth (along with your third coffee) without your kid ruthlessly nicking them from you. First time you were tired. Now there is no word in the English language for your level of knackered.
Three months pregnant with number two
Your worries are wildly different second time round. With a toddler to take care of, work to turn up to, a home to run and to-do lists spiralling out of control, there is no time allocated for worrying. All the ‘what ifs’ are forgotten. What if my hair dye enters my uterus via my skull and harms the baby for life? What if that almost out of date yoghurt makes me sick and hurts the baby? What if my hungover colleague breathes on me and gives the baby fetal alcohol syndrome?! And other such (perfectly rational at the time) concerns are abandoned. Because this time it is less about which cheeses to avoid, and more (all) about your firstborn.
Let’s ignore the elephant in the uterus
This time, there is a lot more at stake emotionally. Maybe you already have a boy and are desperate for a girl next, or vice versa. Maybe you’re all pinked up and don’t fancy a boisterous boy who will surely run around and break things? Maybe your whole world is boy-filled and are not sure how you’ll take to a girl. It’s hard to imagine this yet un-met baby and anticipate the love you will (certainly) feel for him or her, (whoever they are). Many women cannot comprehend how they will be able to love another child as much as the one they already have. If your firstborn is all kinds of brilliant, this is understandable. So in love are you that you almost feel as if you are being unfaithful to him for daring to bring another person into the mix. Alongside; ‘How the feck will I manage two?’, is the common nagging ache of ‘How can I be DOING this to him!’ And it has been said that for your firstborn, the feeling of being presented with a sibling is akin to your fella coming home from work one day with a hot blonde in tow and announcing that this chick is here to stay, along with her smoking body, amazing hair and incredible boobs, and what’s more, you have to be her best friend and share all your shoes. Wouldn’t you would want to slap that bitch?
So what can you do beforehand in terms of damage control?
Prepare your older child. Stories that centre around having a new baby will help your child get their head around the idea. Hang around with new babies and point out how they are feeding and sleeping loads. Prepare your kid for a boring baby. You’d be surprised how many children are stunned to discover their new baby brother doesn’t DO anything. Agree that he is kind of dull at first and then reassure her that he will become fun soon. (This is a lie but say it anyway – kids have a very loose perception of time and before they can hold it against you the baby will be grinning at them.)
Wow. She’s really giving me nothing here.
Plan ahead – for yourself. Yes you have given birth before but your first experience was no indication of how the second will go. All births are different. Go to enormous effort to ensure that once the baby is here you will be able to spend a lot of time sitting down, and lying around. Batch cook, stock up on kiddie snacks and DVDs and plan in some post due date playdates so that you can rest, rest and rest some more in the early days. You are good for no one unless you take time to recuperate. You may have breastfed before but your new baby hasn’t, so take time to work at it together. You can’t do it on your own – ask for help. (People love to help! It makes them feel special and important, so let them.) Whereas before you needed lasagnes, wine and someone to take the washing away, now you need all of the above and someone to take your kid to the park, so that you can rest and then be all guns blazing when you’re flying solo with two. Daddies come in handy here too – paternity leave is a whole different ball game this time round.
Daddy is a helluva lot more fun that mummy right now
It’s hard to predict how your big one will react to your little one. Most firstborns, whatever their age, have powerful feelings about having a new brother or sister. Children are hugely egocentric until around the age of five, so even the ones who are thrilled about the idea of a new baby can suddenly change their mind once the little bundle of newness arrives and changes the family dynamics. They were the centre of your universe. And now, they have to share that title. They don’t know how brilliant it is to have a brother or sister to play with yet. And they have to wait a good while even for the first smile. Consider buying your child a gift ‘From The Baby’. Go all out on something you know they’ll adore – their gratitude will sow the seeds for some full on sibling love. Don’t panic about behaviour changes. Some children want to climb into the pram, suck a dummy or be rocked to sleep, maybe even before the baby arrives. Some might become fussy over food or start waking up in the night. Your potty trained toddler may start peeing in his pants. None of these things last, so just go with it. If you take their clothes off and they scream because they wanted to take them off, re-dress them and let them do it. If they yell at you because you gave them the orange cup when they wanted the blue one, switch cups. Let them have things their way for a bit. It makes them feel like you’re on their side, and that will make them easier to be around. Most children feel jealous at first. Some children come up with igneous plans to get rid of the tiny new impostor. Maybe they will attempt to squeeze him under the sofa, or cover her up with toys. Maybe they will suggest you send her back, or roll him out of the supermarket trolley into the frozen turkey section (true story). Try not to get mad. But if you do get mad and you screech and yell and swear and cry, just say sorry afterwards and then forget about it. No beating yourself up. When you are so tired you have forgotten both of their names as well as your own, and you’re so weary you could weep, hang in there. Try and understand where your eldest is coming from, (hot blonde), and after the tantrums, stay calm and put the telly on. Lie down with both of them together. Cuddle and kiss and stroke and smell and snooze. Let all the rules go during this period of intense adjustment. Lollipops are your friend. You want a biscuit? Here ya go. More Peppa pig? Alright then. Wanna be naked? Hey ho. Don’t sweat it, go easy on them, and on yourself.
And Mummy thinks I’m hugging you!
Presenting your newborn as someone living a very sucky life can be highly effective. Make your firstborn feel superior. ‘The poor baby can’t move! But you can put your wellies on by yourself!’ ‘The baby has to sleep all the time! But you can run around and climb all the trees in the park!’ ‘The baby has to have boring old milk all the time! But you can eat everything!’
It won’t always be plain sailing. So when nothing seems to be working, everything is going wrong, both children are screaming and it feels like your head is going to fall off, tend to the older one first, make your baby happy, (your newbie won’t remember but your big one will), and then go home and have a cup of tea/gin.
Your firstborn will be getting less attention than before, BUT you’ll have provided him with a sibling to grow up with (which was very kind of you). Your baby will not be getting the intense levels of attention your firstborn had BUT they’ll be benefitting from the confidence that mothering your firstborn gave you. Plus they’ll have a sibling to grow up with too (really, very kind of you).
Here’s hoping you become cool
So, do NOT feel guilty. This is like telling most mamas to NOT breathe in and out but think about it – what does guilt achieve? Feck all. So sack it off. Everything is a learning curve but be cheerful – this is your second time round and now you’re a pro. Soon you’ll nail having two, too. Carry your baby around in a sling so your hands are free for your toddler. (With any luck he will assume you’re still pregnant.) Soon you’ll pick up all sorts of tricks, like never leaving the house without your ‘magic collection bag’, a brilliant idea one of my second time mums came up with when her toddler stopped every three and a half seconds whenever they went out. Make your own and then keep spotting treasures for the bag ‘just up ahead’. (You’ll end up with a bag full of soggy leaves and a shed load of rotten conkers but your journey times will be halved.) Another mum I know has a craft box that she gets out when she’s feeding the baby. Your older child can colour to their hearts content while you feed and watch telly. (If your kid doesn’t give a crap about colouring, get stickers and tell them they can put them anywhere they like.)
Looking after small children is tiring. But you have the power to make these days really special and fun. Surround yourself with people in the same situation. Unless you live in the middle of a field this shouldn’t be too tricky. Take heart from their stories and absorb their advice. Lend yours. It takes a village after all. Looking after small children is a privilege and an honour. You are shaping the next generation. It’s a big job, but you’re the boss. The rules are there are no rules. It may not feel like it at the time, but it all goes by too fast to measure it in anything other than moments. And although there will be hard days, there will be really, really good moments in every single one of them.
All worth it in the end
Share the wealth! What are your tips on having baby number two?